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Walker's Wisconsin budget forecast looks rosy

Associated Press Modified: November 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: November 20, 2012

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker's administration told the Legislature on Tuesday that modest economic growth coupled with "frugal management" means Wisconsin is poised to end the two-year budget cycle in June with a net $283 million surplus.

Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch laid out the figures in a letter required under the law that was delivered to Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. The memo gives the clearest picture yet of the state's financial condition heading into next year, but the figures will be further refined by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in January. Walker in February will release his budget covering July 2013 through June 2015.

Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca urged caution in reading too much into the numbers since they were produced by the Walker administration.

"These budget projections resemble Swiss cheese: They are so full of holes," Barca said. "Many factors are not taken into consideration here in order for them to paint a rosy surplus picture."

Walker and Republicans leaders have said they want to cut income taxes as part of the next budget. Making room for that, while at the same time providing the money necessary to operate prisons, pay for Medicaid programs, provide aid to schools and meet all the other expenses of state government, will dominate debate in the Legislature for much of next year.

Democrats, who don't have the votes to stop what Walker and Republicans want, have said increasing funding for schools and higher education needs to be prioritized, along with putting more money into Medicaid and middle class tax relief.

Walker's last budget, which cut funding for K-12 schools by about $800 million and required public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, sparked massive protests in Madison and spurred the failed attempt to recall the governor from office.

"Is Scott Walker going to try to undo that damage with this supposed surplus he has or is he going to continue to give it to tax breaks for the very wealthy?" said Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason, a member of the Legislature's budget committee. "That's the real value question we're going to have moving forward."

Incoming Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the numbers show the state is on the right track.

"We can now realistically consider income tax reform and relief for every taxpayer," he said.

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